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Batman: The Animated Series – “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”

If_You're_So_Smart,_Why_Aren't_You_RichEpisode Number:  40

Original Air Date:  November 18, 1992

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  David Wise

First Appearances(s):  The Riddler

 

It only took 40 episodes, but we’ve finally made it to the debut of what I would consider the last of Batman’s most famous adversaries:  The Riddler. Thanks to his inclusion in the 60’s television series as well as Batman:  The Movie, The Riddler (John Glover) was a very well known villain and was so well known that it was basically considered a given that he would be the featured villain in the sequel to Batman Returns. And it turns out he was! That version of The Riddler, played by Jim Carrey, ended up being very similar in character to the one from the 60’s most famously portrayed by Frank Gorshin right down to the green spandex. For Batman:  The Animated Series, a more cerebral version of the character was chosen. Clad in a green and gray suit with bowler hat, he’s not very much like what we had seen before in popular media. He still is all about riddles though and the essence of the character is preserved. He’s also given an interesting motivation, and he’s yet another villain who was wronged in the past, but flouts the law in order to rectify what happened bringing him into conflict with the one and only Batman.

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Enter The Riddler.

Edward Nygma is a computer game designer who’s latest creation, The Riddle of the Minotaur, has become exceedingly popular. He works for Competitron, a company owned by Daniel Mockridge (Gary Frank), and unfortunately for Nygma all of his work has come under a work for hire agreement. He enters his office one day to find that he actually has no office. Mockridge is there gleefully waiting for him to let him know he’s being terminated. Nygma, irate at this treatment, points out how much money he’s made the company while Mockridge dangles his contract in front of him essentially boasting that he’s completely right, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Because he’s essentially a contractor, he receives no royalties for the game (or if he does, they’re not large) and no creative control. As a parting shot, Mockridge throws the episode’s title right in his face, “If you’re so smart, then why aren’t you rich?”

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Mockridge being taunted as he makes his pitch to Wayne and Fox.

The episode jumps forward two years and Mockridge is pitching Competitron to Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox. Mockridge is looking to sell and cash-out of his growing business while Bruce is interested in moving the company to Gotham to create more jobs. As Mockridge is making his pitch, a word crawl on a building across the street (like one you would see outside a stock exchange) taunts him with a riddle and makes a reference to the big deal he’s trying to negotiate. Mockridge is unnerved, though Wayne and Fox aren’t aware of the message since it’s behind them, and are rather confused when the pitch is cut short. After Mockridge leaves, Wayne notices the riddle and begins reading it aloud while the shot transitions to the Batcave for Batman to finish the riddle. It’s a neat little trick as it points out how voice actor Kevin Conroy portrays Wayne and Batman just slightly differently.

Dick is also in the Batcave and he just so happens to be playing The Riddle of the Minotaur on the Batcave’s computer (which Alfred reveals cost 50 million dollars) which features sound effects lifted straight out of Super Mario Bros. Since Bruce Wayne had to pour over documents relating to the sale of Competitron to Wayne Enterprises, he knows about the creator of the game, Edward Nygma. The riddle also made reference to The Wasteland, which is both a region in the game and a night club owned by Mockridge. Batman decides that’s the most logical place to check-out and declares that Mockridge is in danger.

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There’s something “off” with how Riddler’s expressions are animated. It’s animation more befitting Tiny Toons or Animaniacs.

It turns out, Batman was correct. Mockridge arrives at his club’s office and finds Nygma seated at his desk. He’s now The Riddler and he taunts Mockridge with a ring puzzle. He also has help in the form of two very large goons. Batman and Robin soon arrive, dramatically crashing through a stained glass skylight, but they find no one. The Riddler soon appears to let them know they’re too late, and Mockridge is bound within the ring puzzle The Riddler had been playing with. They have a scuffle with the hired muscle, who put up a pretty good fight. Robin is rather proud of himself when he literally kicks one of them in the rear. The Riddler eventually traps Robin in an over-sized finger trap as a fire breaks out, forcing Batman to either save Robin or pursue The Riddler, who flees with Mockridge. Batman obviously decides to save his ward, allowing Riddler to escape.

As the dynamic duo speed away in the Batmobile, Robin notices all of the lights in the city are flickering on and off. Batman, affixing some sort of mini computer to his glove which looks kind of cool, recognizes that the lights are flickering in a pattern indicating Morse Code. The code contains a riddle, because what else would it, who’s solution leads them to a maze in a closed amusement park. During the prior confrontation, Batman revealed that he knows The Riddler’s identity, so The Riddler determined that he needs to take out Batman to protect his secret. By luring Batman and Robin to his maze he hopes to do just that while also taking care of Mockridge.

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The Riddler welcoming Batman and Robin to his maze.

The maze is a literal recreation of the one from Nygma’s game. Robin, having played it quite a bit, is familiar with it and Batman is gradually brought up to speed as they go along. Nygma has made this version of the maze much more lethal than the video game counterpart, and Batman and Robin have their hands full. The Riddler is able to taunt them from various video screens throughout the maze and he lets them know they only have a few minutes to make it to the center and save Mockridge, who is gagged and bound beneath the blade of the Minotaur. The problem is, no one has ever solved the riddle of the Minotaur and made it through the maze, meaning Batman and Robin will have to be the first if they want to save Mockridge and apprehend The Riddler.

Batman is willing to play along only so much, but when they make a wrong move The Hand of Fate is sprung on them. We saw the video game version earlier in the episode as The Hand of Fate is a game mechanic that punishes wrong answers by bringing the player back to the maze’s start. In the real world, it’s a literal flying hand that Batman and Robin are able to avoid. When it becomes apparent that they have no chance at making it to the center of the maze in time, Batman intentionally makes a wrong move to draw the hand to him. Using a piece of shrapnel from an earlier trap (The Riddler made them leave their utility belts outside the maze in order to gain entry), Batman is able to hack The Hand of Fate, and together with his little glove computer, is able to pilot the hand to the maze’s center. It’s cheating, but effective. There they have to answer one final riddle in order to prevent the Minotaur from killing Mockridge, and it’s actually a pretty simple riddle. Not content to make it so easy, The Riddler springs the Minotaur on them as one final obstacle that Batman is more than capable of dealing with, in his own way.

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A confrontation with the Minotaur awaits at the center of the maze.

With Mockridge saved, the only thing left is to catch The Riddler. Unfortunately for them, he’s no where to be found. He’s been speaking to them from aboard an airplane and he’s now long gone. In the episode’s epilogue, we find out the deal was completed and Mockridge came away with a cool ten million. Dick is kind of disappointed as they’re well aware that Mockridge is a creep who took advantage of Nygma’s genius, but Bruce points out that all the money in the world can’t buy a good night’s sleep as we’re shown a very paranoid Mockridge locking his doors at night and keeping a gun by his bed as he shivers in fear.

This episode very much reminded me of Mr. Freeze’s debut, “Heart of Ice.” The only difference is that Freeze’s adversary was a criminal himself, while Mockridge is just your typical corporate sleezeball taking advantage of a system that’s rigged in his favor at the expense of someone much poorer than he. Mockridge hasn’t broken any laws, but he’s obviously a morally bankrupt individual. It’s not that surprising to see a show who’s origins stem from a comic book incorporate such a villain into an episode as Mockridge’s tactics are similar to the ones comic publishers used to box out the artists and creators that made the comics successful. It would be many years later that we would find out a similar travesty occurred with Batman as Bill Finger never received credit for his contributions to the character during his lifetime. Finger, appropriately enough, was also the creator of The Riddler.

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Mockridge “enjoying” his money.

As a result of Mockridge being such a lame person, we’re in essence rooting for Nygma during this episode. In reality, he probably could have filed a lawsuit against Mockridge and Competitron and possibly could have won. For all we know he did during the two year time-jump and maybe lost. He chose to take things into his own hands though and turn to crime to exact revenge against the man and company that wronged him. How he was able to finance that ridiculous maze is not explained and I suppose we’re supposed to just ignore it so the episode can work. Even though we’re supposed to disagree with The Riddler’s methods, I have to assume we were supposed to take some satisfaction in his escape at the episode’s conclusion.

This episode is one of two animated by Blue Pencil, S.I., and it’s not a particularly strong episode. A lot of new backgrounds had to be utilized so there was some cost there, but the animation is inconsistent and there are numerous visual errors. The Riddler’s mask at one point changes from pink to gray and a key re-appears on a wall when it shouldn’t be there, among other little flaws. That stuff was common in a lot of kid’s cartoons of the era, though not so much in this one, so it stands out more. The Riddler himself is also some-what toon-like in his movements and mannerisms with his face stretching and contorting into odd shapes as he speaks. It looks out of place, and there’s some odd shots of Batman as well. The Minotaur at the episode’s conclusion, who is supposed to be a robot, also moves like this making it seem like he’s more flesh-like than steel. Blue Pencil only worked on one other episode, which we’ll get to in about a month from now, and I wonder if it’s because the quality wasn’t up to par.

The Riddler is not a villain we’ll be hearing from very much. It’s kind of a shame because John Glover’s take on the character is quite good and I much prefer it to the Gorshin and Carrey portrayal. I do wonder if he was avoided because it’s pretty hard to come up with clever riddles to dot his episodes with. The ones in this episode are kind of weak, but not embarrassingly so or anything. I can definitely see it being a very intimidating task to write a Riddler episode. I always liked The Riddler though and I kind of wish we saw him in the Nolan trilogy as I think he would have made his Riddler similar to this one. We had to wait awhile for him to show up in this series, but it would seem he was mostly worth the wait.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”

The_Strange_Secret_of_Bruce_Wayne-Title_CardEpisode Number:  37

Original Air Date:  October 29, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  David Wise, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

First Appearance(s):  Hugo Strange

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is another episode of Batman:  The Animated Series that can trace its roots back to a story from Detective Comics, in this case issues #471 and #472 “The Dead Yet Live” and “I Am the Batman!” by Steve Englehart. It introduces Hugo Strange to the Bat-verse, a scientist with a penchant for extortion. Strange uses a machine that can read the minds of individuals. Under the guise of therapy, Strange seduces wealthy individuals into agreeing to his services and when he unearths something nefarious from their subconscious he’s able to blackmail them in exchange for keeping their secrets. If that sounds familiar, then you’ve probably seen Batman Forever, where The Riddler used a similar scheme. We’re only 37 episodes deep, but we’ve already seen a few instances of where this animated series influenced a movie to come. Batman Forever borrowed some of the Two-Face bits from the episode of the same name, and Batman Begins basically adapted The Scarecrow’s scheme from “Dreams in Darkness.” It’s just another example of how far reaching this show was. This episode also marks the first time we’ll see a team-up of sorts out of Batman’s rogues gallery when Joker, The Penguin, and Two-Face show up in the episode’s second act.

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Hugo Strange is today’s villain, and while there were tentative plans to bring him back, this ends up being his only appearance in the series.

The episode opens with a woman (who looks a lot like the woman being victimized by Poison Ivy in “Eternal Youth”) being approached on a bridge by some routine looking gangsters. The woman is revealed to be a judge in Gotham by the name of Maria Vargas (Carmen Zapata) and the gangsters want her to pay up in order to protect some information they have on her. Batman, apparently was tipped off or just happens to be in the right place at the right time, is watching from above as the judge hands over a briefcase full of money only to be told the price just went up. When she pleads with them that she can’t possibly pay more the crooks prepare to leave and Batman enters the fray. Vargas tries to take off and gets herself in some danger on the bridge, accidentally knocking herself out. Batman is forced to abandon his pursuit of the crooks in order to save her.

After the commotion is over and the police are on the scene, Commissioner Gordon explains he knows Vargas and can’t imagine her having a secret she doesn’t want out. He reveals he just dined with her recently and that she had just returned from vacation. He gets a call on his gigantic cell phone about the license plate on the limo the gangsters were driving and finds out it’s registered to the same resort Vargas just vacationed at. Batman then takes off via the Batwing, being piloted by Robin, and he playfully asks Robin if he seems stressed while remarking it may be time for a vacation.

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Strange’s memory extracting machine is a bad place for someone with an alter-ego to find themselves in.

Bruce Wayne and Alfred immediately depart for Yucca Springs, a resort that just so happens to be owned by Roland Dagget (a piece of info that’s never elaborated on) and is home to Dr. Hugo Strange (Ray Buktenica). Wayne signs up for a therapy session and finds himself in the doctor’s machine. He’s told the machine will help ease his stress by forcing him to confront his past. It seems a little risky for Bruce to enter such a device, but he goes along with it. Strange pries at Wayne to reveal information on his past, specifically the death of his parents. Bruce’s thoughts are transmitted to a screen for Strange to monitor, and when he pries further bats appear along with a gloved fist and an unmistakable logo. Bruce hops out of the machine and remarks it doesn’t seem to be an effective stress reliever for him. Strange tells him the first session is often hard, but they’ll do better tomorrow. As Bruce leaves he removes a tape from his machine and refers to him as Batman. Dun dun duuuuun!

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Bruce Wayne’s secret revealed!

Strange immediately starts calling around, and we’re treated to a pretty dark, but hilarious, answering machine greeting from The Joker. Strange is going to auction off his perhaps priceless information and in addition to Joker he also calls The Penguin and Two-Face. For Joker, this is the first time we’re seeing him since his apparent death in “The Laughing Fish” and no explanation for his survival is presented. It’s also a rare Joker appearance that occurs without Harley Quinn. For Two-Face, this is the first time we’ve seen him in anything more than a cameo since his debut. Apparently Arkham was unable to rehabilitate him. As for The Penguin, this is only his second appearance in the show after kind of a comedic debut in “I Have Batman in my Basement,” one of the more divisive episodes the show output.

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Three fellas who would likely be interested in knowing who Batman is under the mask.

While Strange is busy peddling his tape, Wayne sneaks into his laboratory to get a closer look at the machine. He finds the tape on Judge Vargas (as well as many other, most of which are Easter Eggs) and sees what she’s been hiding in her past. When she was a little girl, she was playing with matches which lead to a fire at the Gotham Docks, apparently a pretty big story back in its day, as well as a destructive blaze. Bruce realizes his tape is missing and Alfred, sneaking around outside, radios him to let him know who Strange just welcomed to the resort. Bruce then begins erasing all of the tapes before finally destroying the machine. Strange and his muscle come in just as Bruce really gets going. He’s disappointed at the loss of his device, but he still has the tape of Bruce’s alter-ego so he’s in a pretty good mood. Bruce is tied up and tossed somewhere with Alfred. Alfred apologizes for failing him, but Bruce is taking things in stride claiming everything is going according to plan as he produces a lock pick and gets to work.

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Making deals with the likes of Joker and Two-Face carries certain risks.

Meanwhile, Strange is presenting his finding to the villains. Surprisingly, they go along with the bidding and decide to pool their money together so they all can see what’s on the tape know it supposedly contains the true identity of Batman. I’m a bit puzzled why someone like The Joker wouldn’t just kill Strange and take the tape, but I’ll go along with it. Strange is very happy for his payment of approximately 50 million dollars, and gets ready to play the tape for them. Unknown to him, Batman is lurking in the rafters and he switches out the input on the projector to a different tape player. What plays is a video of Strange speaking with his cohorts about his plan to produce a phony tape about Batman in order to extort a bunch of villains out of their not so hard-earned money. This naturally enrages the attendants and Strange is forced to flee.

Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin eventually capture Strange and take him to the airport. Alfred, in their limo, picks up Batman and the two give chase while Alfred remarks he’s contacted Master Dick. The villains drag Strange onto an airplane and take to the sky. They plan to chuck him out and Strange starts begging for his life. He tells them Batman is Bruce Wayne, but no one believes him. Batman, able to stow-away on the plane, cuts the fuel line and the whole thing begins going down. It crashes, and somehow everyone on the plane is able to walk away fine just as the Gotham Police show up. As Strange is being lead away, he taunts Batman. He knows he used the machine to create a false tape of him to fool Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face. As he goes on and on, Bruce Wayne shows up, much to the shock of Strange. Batman says the two worked together to bring him down under the guise that Wayne and Judge Vargas are close friends and he wanted to get back at him. Once Gordon and Strange are out of earshot, Wayne is revealed to be Dick in disguise and everyone is ready to head home.

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Bruce Wayne?! Batman?! How could this be?!?

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is a fun story – what would someone do with Batman’s secret identity? Strange’s actions are entirely logical for an extortionist, even if it’s a bit unrealistic to think he could get in touch with the likes of Joker and company so easily. The episode does jump through some hoops to preserve Batman’s secret in the end. I don’t like how the writers are afraid to show Batman as being fooled, and he instead needs to be one step ahead of Strange the whole time. The Bruce Wayne impersonation is also pretty unrealistic since Dick not only is able to look exactly like Wayne, but also sound like him as well. It’s the kind of thing a cartoon can get away with that live action would not. I guess they’re just taking advantage of the medium, but it does feel cheap. A lot happens in this episode so it moves really fast, which is fine. I suppose you could argue that the plot could have been dragged out across two episodes, but I’m fine with it as is. I did find it odd that Two-Face’s coin never came into play, he was ready to toss Strange out of the airplane, but I do like how he mentions that he knows Bruce Wayne and it’s why he can’t possibly believe that he would be Batman. Still, it’s kind of surprising that it was never revisited in a later episode with one of the three villains at least entertaining the notion. I feel like the plot of this episode is memorable, making this one of the most popular episodes of the show. I don’t know if it’s a top 10 episode, but it’s probably at least in the top 25. Just a good, some-what flawed, but entertaining episode.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Night of the Ninja”

Night_of_the_Ninja-Title_CardEpisode Number:  35

Original Air Date:  October 26, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Steve Perry

First Appearance(s):  Kyodai Ken

 

Episode 35 gives us perhaps the first true villain and foe for Batman created just for television. Up until now, the made-for-TV rogues have mostly been mob bosses and white collar crooks like Rupert Thorne and Roland Daggett. Harley Quinn, is of course, the one character from this show that everyone knows now, but she’s been strictly a henchman so far. This episode introduces Kyodai Ken (Robert Ito), or simply The Ninja, who is the first villain who can actually go toe-to-toe with Batman that was created by the show. In doing some digging online I could not find a credit for who created the character. Steve Perry wrote the episode, but I don’t know that he created Kyodai. It’s possible it was just a collaborative effort from the likely many writing sessions and roundtables that took place during the planning stages of the series.

However Kyodai Ken came to be, it’s not surprising that he exists. Ninjas were pretty popular in the 80s and 90s as villains in cartoons and comic books. Always looking cool and possessing awesome abilities, the ninja character was often a fan-favorite whether he was a hero or a villain. Having a generic ninja character in Batman:  The Animated Series helps to date the series, but in kind of a charming way. Kyodai Ken feels very “90s” as a result, but while he could have just been a simple physical foe for Batman, the show does add some depth via his past relationship with Bruce Wayne.

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Only a bad guy would get a tattoo like that.

The episode opens with our new villain infiltrating a Wayne Industries building. Clad all in black, the apparent ninja sneaks his way past security and what little resistance he meets he deals with quickly and efficiently (but not lethally, since we’re talking about a kid’s show). We’ll learn via news broadcasts that this robbery is part of a string on Wayne Industries. Bruce learns of the latest during a sparring match with Dick in which we get a small tidbit of information that Bruce is a black belt in whatever discipline his choice is while Dick is a green belt. If the belts didn’t make it obvious, then the contest will as Bruce is clearly the better and Dick seems to take exception to how seriously Bruce takes everything. When Alfred informs them of what’s taken place, Bruce gets really irritated.

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Batman has met his match? Say it ain’t so!

Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) makes a return to the show in a more prominent role as a constant thorn in Bruce Wayne’s side. She’s there to ask him the tough questions about the robberies, and ornery old Bruce wants to hear none of it as he checks out the crime scene. She gets to do the cliche reporter trope of asking aloud if there’s more to Bruce than meets the eye, and even refers to him as The Bruce on one occasion. Apparently this was to suggest the tabloids had a cute name for him that thankfully didn’t stick as I don’t believe he’s ever called that in a later episode.

Never one to trust that the police can handle things, Batman is ready for the next target of The Ninja – Wayne Cosmetics. It’s a garish looking building with huge neon lips that the ninja has targeted, but this time instead of encountering a security detail he finds Batman waiting for him on the roof. The two square-off, and The Ninja is intrigued when Batman takes a martial arts stance. The two fight and The Ninja appears to have the upper hand until Robin shows up. As he makes a run for it, Robin nails him in the back with a shuriken exposing to Batman a demon tattoo on his back.

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When Bruce was younger, he was sepia-toned. Everything was.

The tattoo means something to Batman, as we’ve been shown a series of flashbacks throughout the episode, with more to come. They’re all of Bruce Wayne’s training in Japan before he took on the Batman persona. There, Wayne was one of the star pupils but a rival by the name of Kyodai Ken proved to be his better on multiple occasions. Ken was rather cocky about it and seemed to resent Wayne for his rich upbringing (apparently the whole dead parents thing afforded him no sympathy). Sensei Yoru (Chao Li Chi) played peacemaker between the two, often being forced to admonish Ken for his dishonorable behavior. There’s more to the story though than just petty rivalry. One night, Ken tried to steal the Master’s prized blade – a weapon of considerable value. Wayne was there to catch him in the act, and Master Yoru interrupts their duel. Yoru banishes Ken from the dojo and he escapes further punishment, but Bruce never forgot the one man who could always beat him – the man with the demon tattoo on his back.

Batman is understandably irritated by the presence of Kyodai Ken in Gotham and he now knows that Ken is likely seeking retribution for Wayne’s role in getting him kicked out of the dojo all those years ago. Robin wants to accompany Batman in tracking him down, but Batman wants nothing to do with him. It becomes obvious that Batman is actually worried he can’t defeat this one (even though he’s got plenty of other tools beyond just his raw fighting ability, but whatever) and it’s taking a toll on his mood. Alfred fills in the details for Robin as he was there with Bruce to witness his many defeats at the hands of Ken.

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He’s a clever ninja.

Bruce Wayne is to attend a a charities reception and he goes alone. As he makes his way out of the event, Gleeson chases after him and hops into his car with him badgering him about the robberies. Bruce offers little and when the valet wishes him a good night Bruce realizes it’s Ken in disguise – too late though as Ken hits the pair with some kind of knock-out gas and jumps into the car. When Bruce awakens he finds his hands are bound and Gleeson is with him. They’re at some kind of textile plant, I would guess, since there’s rolled up carpeting behind them. Ken is happy to reveal himself to Bruce and boast about his massive plan to electronically drain all of Wayne’s accounts and wire the money to his own. Bruce tries to play to his ego, as does Gleeson calling him a crook, for abandoning the way of the samurai in favor of being a ninja. Ken doesn’t seem to care about their judgements.

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The confrontation that apparently started this whole thing.

Luckily for Bruce, Robin did not heed his advice and has located them thanks to a tracking device in Bruce’s car. He’s not the stealthiest vigilante as he trips Ken’s alarm and is forced to face him on the rooftop. Robin holds his own, but Ken is able to slash out the supports of a water tower (in classic anime fashion where the splitting of the supports only occurs after Ken sheaths his blade) spilling the contents onto the roof taking Robin with it. During their confrontation, Bruce was able to get free of the bindings Ken had used and is ready for a fight when Ken returns. Kyodai mocks Bruce and taunts him that he could never best him, and that appears to be true. Bruce gets knocked around while Robin sneaks into the building, much more successfully than before. He realizes that Bruce is holding back due to the presence of Summer looking on. He’s able to tamper with the carpeting rolled up along the wall to get one roll to unfold over Gleeson, obstructing her view of the fight. At that point Bruce is able to let go and he soon proves the better fighter. Recognizing his defeat, Kyodai Ken flees diving into the nearby river, but not before informing Bruce that this isn’t over.

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Oh, it’s on now!

After the police arrive, Bruce is able to thank Robin for his help. This small victory for Robin is enough to erase the frustration he felt earlier in the episode (and in “Robin’s Reckoning”) and he seems quite tickled to be praised by his mentor. Bruce also reveals that he told Gleeson Batman showed up to deal with Ken, which apparently was enough to get that reporter off his back (you would think she’d want to know more about the obvious past relationship between he and Kyodai Ken – some reporter she turned out to be) and put a nice bow on things, but with the obvious weight in the air suggesting that this rivalry is unsettled.

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Bruce gives as good as he gets.

As this episode doesn’t feature a villain from the comics, it has a B-level feel throughout that even shows in the episode’s production. There’s some sparse shots here and there and a few instances of characters looking a bit off. There’s one close-up of Gleeson that makes her look kind of frightening when she’s shoving a mic in Bruce’s face. The opening scene of Kyodai infiltrating the Wayne Industries building also has a worker character seated at a computer where only his arms are animated. Everything is very static, including his coffee which the illustrators gave the appearance of a rippling liquid but no one animated it further just making it look weird. Ken is also really simple being a ninja dressed from head to toe in all black with just his eyes exposed. He sports a red sash for his sword, but that’s it. The artists also resisted any temptation to add shading to Kyodai Ken so he is strictly black. Often times in cartoons you’ll see similarly colored outfits shaded with blue or a lighter color to add definition and depth to the image. Ken basically looks like a shadow, but since this show had a pretty substantial budget I like to think this was a stylistic choice as opposed to a cost one.

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If you enjoyed Kyodai Ken then good news, he will return!

“Night of the Ninja” is unofficially part one of a two-part story focusing on Batman and Kyodai Ken, so it feels a bit odd to judge it alone. By itself, it’s a solid episode and Ken is given a reason to exist in this universe by being Batman’s better. Their fight at the episode’s climax feels a bit brief, but perhaps that’s due to the follow-up episode having a more robust encounter. We’ll have to wait and see for their true showdown, but the simple fact that we’re left wanting more is a pretty good indication of the episode’s success at getting the audience to buy into a villain they’ve never seen before. It was also fun to get a glimpse of a Batman who’s confidence has been shaken. We’ve only seen a little of this side of Batman before, primarily when he first encountered The Scarecrow many episodes ago. That episode was more about an internal conflict of Batman vs his fears while this one presented a true physical foe that Batman was unsure if he could handle. We’ve seen plenty of bad guys go toe-to-toe with the caped crusader at this point, some more than holding their own, but we’ve never really been given any indication that Batman could possibly come up short in a fight. For that reason, Kyodai Ken fulfills a role and making him a character unique to this series means he’s not hampered by anything from the comics and the writers are free to do with him as they please. The episode ends up being probably better than most would assume if they heard it featured a villain created for television and I think it fits quite solidly into that tier of Batman episodes that’s pretty good, not great, but a better than average.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Robin’s Reckoning: Part II”

Robin's_Reckoning_Part_IIEpisode Number:  33

Original Air Date:  February 14, 1993

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

When we left off with “Robin’s Reckoning” last week, Batman was out trying to track down Tony Zucco (Thomas F. Wilson), he who murdered Robin’s parents. He was doing this while trying to keep Robin in the dark and on the sidelines, for what reason we’re not entirely sure. Robin wasn’t having any of it though, and once he realized what was going down he immediately chastised Batman over the radio and jumped on a Batcycle to go join in the manhunt. Even though it was not the first appearance of Robin in the series, “Robin’s Reckoning” was kind of a proper introduction to the Robin character. We see how his youthful enthusiasm contrasts with Batman’s more serious demeanor and we also learned why he’s a crime fighter as his origin is pretty much the same as Batman’s. We got to see how the two met in a very flashback heavy episode and the episode setup a pretty compelling story for this episode to continue.

The episode begins with Robin using a tracking device that’s in the Batcycle that is capable of homing in on the Batmobile. It would make sense for the two pieces of equipment to be able to communicate with each other in case Batman were to not come home one night due to an unfortunate accident or something. Unfortunately for Robin, the Batmobile alerts Batman that the tracking system has been engaged and he’s able to shut it down. This infuriates Robin, but he doesn’t dwell on the slight and instead vows to track down Zucco on his own like he did so many years ago. Cue the flashback!

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Alfred, you might want to get in here.

Yes, it’s another flashback. Perhaps you thought we were done with them after the prior episode. After all, the flashbacks there ended with Zucco getting away and Bruce being convinced that he needs to spend more time with Dick and less time trying to track down Zucco because it’s what Dick really needs most. That could have been enough to justify how Zucco was able to elude Batman all these years – when Batman halted his pursuit Tony cut town and never came back. Instead, we’re going to find out that it was a little more complicated than that.

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A young hero, a brutal pimp, and a hooker with a heart of gold.

The flashback begins with Bruce and Dick fencing with each other. Dick is impulsive and unable to land a strike on Bruce who tries to give him pointers. It’s a microcosm of their approach to crime fighting. Just before the two get into some real uncomfortable horseplay, Alfred interrupts to let Bruce know that Commissioner Gordon is here to see him. Bruce excuses himself to speak with Gordon and, naturally, Dick is able to slip away and eavesdrop. Turns out, Gordon has info on Zucco and says they’re closing in thanks to having the really brilliant idea of posting wanted fliers around the city. Unfortunately, there’s bad news too as they have intel suggesting he plans to skip town tonight and if he gets away they may never find him. This seems to suggest that either Gotham PD doesn’t get along with surrounding police forces for help or that Gordon has a low opinion of the FBI. At any rate, it’s no surprise so much crime occurs in Gotham if all you have to do to escape justice is simply leave town.

Armed with this new information, Bruce sets out as Batman that night to try and nab Zucco once and for all. Also slipping out is young Dick armed with a nifty hat and the picture from one of the wanted posters. He heads to the rough part of town and starts looking for Zucco the old fashioned way. No one is really interested in helping him out, but he does stumble upon what appears to be a disagreement between a prostitute and her pimp. The pimp is dressed like basically every bad guy in this show in a three-piece tan suit and not garish traditional pimp attire. The two don’t say anything that confirms their situation, but he’s demanding she hand over some more money because he thinks she’s holding out on him. If she’s not a prostitute then I don’t know what their arrangement could possibly be. Dick isn’t going to stand for this though and he jumps to the woman’s defense. He’s able to dispatch of the slime ball and the two flee to a diner where the woman presumably pays for his meal. It’s there he gets a tip from the waitress who recognizes Zucco as some jerk who appears to be living around the wharf.

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Dick, furious with Batman for saving him and letting Zucco get away.

Dick hastily leaves the diner to go check out the building the waitress pointed out and, sure enough, he finds Zucco who’s stuffing his belongings into a suitcase. Before he can call the cops though, Zucco spots him and recognizes him immediately as the boy from the circus. Things look bleak for poor Dick, but thankfully Batman was also hard at work this evening tracking Zucco down and arrives just in time. He tosses Zucco aside sparing Dick, but Dick can’t control himself and runs at Zucco pounding on him. Zucco shoves him aside, and Dick strikes a guardrail that gives way and he plunges into a fast moving river. Batman is forced to choose between Zucco and Dick, and of course he’s going to go after Dick. Perhaps I’m more ruthless than Batman, but I wouldn’t have just left Zucco there – I would have tossed him in too. As Batman leaves, Zucco adjusts his suit and remarks, in a very Biff Tannen-like way, “That takes care of The Bat and The Brat.” He’s going to bring the schtick in this episode.

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“Don’t you feel like an idiot now, Dick?”

Batman saves Dick, because obviously if he did not then we wouldn’t have a Robin today, and brings him back to the Batcave. It’s there he reveals his identity, and Dick can only smile sheepishly. It’s presumed at that point Dick’s Robin training must have started, but we don’t know for sure since the flashback ends at roughly the episode’s halfway point. Robin then heads to Dolan’s house, he being the guy Batman and Robin caught earlier in the night who gave them the name Billy Marin, an alias used by Tony Zucco. He uses Dolan’s phone and hits redial, and sure enough, Zucco picks up. Robin has this neat little gadget that’s able to do a caller ID kind of trick when he does this that even gives him the number’s address. I don’t know if such a device ever existed, but it’s certainly not the most far-fetched thing we’ve seen in the series.

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The years have been unkind to Tony.

Batman, presumably by virtue of his offscreen interrogation of Dolan in the prior episode, already knows where Zucco is and arrives well before Robin. An older Zucco is ranting to his hired help and comes across as paranoid about Batman. It’s at this point if you didn’t realize that the voice actor for Zucco, Thomas Wilson, was Biff in the Back to the Future trilogy then you probably would now. He’s in total Biff mode and it’s kind of amusing to see him basically go nuts and fire his gun at noises. Turns out, he wasn’t being overly paranoid since by blasting out the ceiling of their hideout he forces Batman to come crashing in. He wrenches his knee during the fall, and Zucco takes notice immediately. Batman is forced to use a smoke bomb to escape, but as Zucco points out, he won’t be able to get far with such a limp.

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All right, this is pretty bad ass.

Batman is able to fashion a crude splint and starts methodically taking out Zucco’s goons, but eventually he finds himself cornered by the fiend. Fear not, for Robin is there to swoop in on his bike and grab Zucco by the collar. He drags him down the docks from his bike before eventually letting go. He tosses him around a few times, remarking menacingly how he’s waiting a long time for this. Zucco is both confused and frightened, and just when it seems like Robin is going to cross a line he’s called off by Batman. Appearing slightly embarrassed, Robin relents as the police arrive.

After things are cleaned up, Batman and Robin have a moment. Robin apologizes saying Batman was right the whole time and knew he wouldn’t be able to control himself. Batman says that wasn’t his fear. Tony Zucco had taken so much from Robin, he was afraid he might take Robin too. The two get all chummy and the episode ends kind of abruptly on what is supposed to be a tender moment.

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I’m not sure that fall would kill him, but maybe the censors wouldn’t let them get away with more.

Supposed to be? Yeah, I didn’t really buy it when I first watched it and I still don’t. The entire last act of this episode has a lot of problems. First of all, the way Robin ambushes Zucco and lets him know he’s been looking forward to this basically gives away his identity. Zucco isn’t the brightest bulb, but he’s not so dumb that he shouldn’t be able to figure out that Robin is the circus boy. If he didn’t in the moment then he surely would after this since he’d be put on trial for the murder of the Graysons and Dick would be called to testify as the chief witness. Which inevitably would lead Zucco to conclude that not only is Dick Robin, but that Bruce Wayne is most likely Batman. Robin basically needed to kill Zucco to protect himself and Batman, but he’s left as a loose end that the show has no intention of ever addressing.

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We do get a glimpse of Robin’s dark side in this episode, but it’s nothing that the show ever returns to.

Batman’s explanation of fearing Zucco would murder Robin also feels like a cop-out. Batman Forever, of all things, would end up better addressing how Batman feared Robin would betray his morals and murder his parents’ killer to exact revenge. Perhaps the show runners here felt like they couldn’t tackle such a subject on a kid’s show, but they did so well in presenting the murder of the Graysons just an episode earlier that it blows my mind they couldn’t have found a way to do something more artful here. Now, perhaps you want to play wordsmith and suggest Batman didn’t literally fear Zucco killing Robin, but feared losing the Robin he knew by virtue of him taking Zucco out. Unfortunately, Robin basically suggests that to Batman as the reason why he wasn’t including him in the hunt for Zucco and he’s quick to say, “No.” I think he’s speaking plainly here and his fear of losing Robin just doesn’t carry much weight. They’ve tangled with far worse than Tony Zucco, so Batman’s fear would be pretty irrational by comparison and Batman is, above all, a pretty rational kind of guy.

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“So, umm, buds again?”

Unfortunately, “Robin’s Reckoning” suffers from the same Part II malaise that the other two-parters fell victim to, save for maybe “Clayface.” The writers and directors for this show have demonstrated they know how to utilize the full 22 minutes of an episode to craft an exceptional setup for a part two, but haven’t demonstrated an ability to truly capitalize on it. They’ll have other chances, but it is a little frustrating as a viewer. Part One of “Robin’s Reckoning” is really one of the show’s best episodes, while part two is just kind of ho-hum. The flashback is fine, though a bit long, and the climax just can’t deliver. That is due in part to Standards and Practices as Robin can’t just start wailing on Zucco in a kid’s show, instead he can only judo toss him a couple of times (though dragging him from a motorcycle is pretty violent, even though he shows no real injury from it) and act like a tough guy. Robin also accepts Batman’s explanation and views him as being in the right this whole time, seemingly brushing aside this conflict the episode was hinging on between Batman and Robin. There’s no lasting damage done to the relationship meaning we get sort of the classic sitcom reset by episode’s end which feels like a missed opportunity. In the end we did get some nice insight into how Robin came to be, but it would have been nice to build onto that with further character development. Oh well, perhaps I’m just asking too much of this show and being unfair, but I don’t want to dumb down my expectations just because this is a kid’s show.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Robin’s Reckoning: Part I”

Robins_Reckoning-Title_CardEpisode Number:  32

Original Air Date:  February 7, 1993

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  Tony Zucco, The Flying Graysons

 

Up until now we’ve seen very little of the sidekick formerly known as The Boy Wonder – Robin. He’s only appeared in a couple of episodes and hasn’t really brought much to the table. For episode 32, we’re going to finally find out how this Robin came to be via the flashback heavy episode – “Robin’s Reckoning.” Fox held onto this one for a long time. It’s production order episode 32, but it’s air date episode 51 and the first episode we’re covering the was held over into 1993. Fox knew it had a pretty good tale on its hands, and since the episode is a bit heavy, the network chose to premier it in prime time on February 7th with Part II following the next week on Valentine’s Day. It would air in reruns during the regular afternoon and Saturday morning time slots so there wasn’t an issue with the content, but of the several episodes of this show to be shown-off in a prime time slot, this one is arguably the most deserving.

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Robin, getting some of that action he was craving.

The episode opens with Batman and Robin in the midst of a stake-out. Some crooks are expected to show-up at a construction yard where the steel beams of a future skyscraper have already been erected. They’re saboteurs and intend to take the thing down or compromise the building’s integrity through explosive means. When we join in with our heroes we learn through Robin’s complaining that they’ve already been waiting for over four hours. Robin is especially child-like in this brief sequence and let’s out a “wahoo!” when the crooks finally show. For whatever reason, we’re going to see more kid Robin in terms of his behavior during this episode than we’re accustomed to. He’ll even address Alfred as “Man,” injecting a little Bart Simpson into his vernacular. I assume it’s to highlight the difference in character between he and Batman, but it sounds rather forced.

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I love “menacing” Batman.

Robin goes in first and Batman follows. They tangle with the crooks, a trio of typical gangster types, that contains some fun action pieces since they’re fighting in a pretty dangerous environment. One guy even gets a hold of a rail gun that nearly takes off Robin’s fingers. Another unfortunate fool ends up dangling from a girder, and when the other two attempt to escape Batman instructs Robin to let them go since Mr. About-To-Fall-To-His-Messy-Death is the only guy they need to find out who’s hiring these guys. In an amusing exchange, the crook refuses to talk so Batman and Robin walk away. He shouts after them that the cops wouldn’t leave him in this state and Batman is quick to remind him that they’re not the cops. I like this ruthless side of Batman and it makes me kind of wish the guy did fall so we could see if Batman truly would have stood aside. My guess is he probably would not, but it’s fun to think he might not have. Anyways, the crook eventually talks and says he’s working for a guy named Billy Marin. As the name is spoken Batman reacts with surprise and the sound of a bell chime can be heard, as in, the name rings a bell. This is easily the most hack thing this show has done and I really wish it wasn’t part of an otherwise excellent episode. It’s literally an audible cue as there is nothing in the scene responsible for the sound – so lame. When Robin pounces on him for info Batman abruptly cuts him off and orders him to get the Batmobile. Confused and hurt, Robin slinks away leaving Batman alone with his prey. He growls about wanting answers and the scene ends.

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Robin’s been a pretty cheerful guy up until now, but we’re in for a lot of Angry Robin from here on out.

At the Batcave, Robin is distressed about being brought home suddenly. He apologizes for his behavior at the construction yard, but Batman won’t explain why he’s bringing Robin back. Citing some old rules they apparently agreed to long ago, he justifies his needs for privacy and takes off. Robin has now gone from upset to downright angry. Alfred is there to hear him out, and bring him some supper (it kind of bothers me that Alfred first shows up in his pajamas, then is seen serving Dick in his tux. I’d like to think Alfred doesn’t need to get dressed in the middle of the night just to serve food) while Robin rants about how selfish Batman is. Finally it dawns on him to just look up Billy Marin on Batman’s gigantic computer, and he finds out Marin is an alias for one Tony Zucco. Robin repeats the name menacingly as the screen fades to black – it’s flashback time!

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Sid the Squid, listed as another alias here for Zucco, will come up again in a later episode.

Tony Zucco (Thomas F. Wilson) is apparently a small time extortionist who once tried to get a circus owner to hire him for “protection.” This circus also happened to be the home of The Flying Graysons consisting of young Dick Grayson along with his mother and father. Dick, aged 10, witnessed his boss tossing Zucco out of his trailer ordering him to get lost. Zucco then issued a threat which foolishly included the tired old line of “You’ll remember the name of Tony Zucco!” or something to that effect. The next night, as the Graysons are preparing to take center stage for their trapeze act, Dick witnesses Zucco exiting the tent. He tries to warn his parents, but it’s their cue and they are performers, after all. Dick’s father heads out onto the trapeze rope with Dick to follow. They do their routine before Dick returns to the podium so his mother can take his place. As she swings off Dick notices the rope for the trapeze has been tampered with. We see the silhouette of his parents swinging against the tent backdrop. They swing out of picture, then just the rope swings back into it accompanied by a gasping sound from the audience.

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The Flying Graysons.

The episode doesn’t linger too long on the actual accident, instead jumping to the aftermath of Dick telling a young Commissioner Gordon what he saw and that he thinks this Zucco character is to blame. Bruce Wayne, who was in attendance, has waited around to ask about the boy since obviously he’s experienced something similar. Gordon mentions he’s worried Zucco might come for him, so Wayne offers to help. The next day, Dick bids a tearful goodbye to his friends at the circus before getting into a car with Gordon who takes him to Wayne Manor. There he’s given a bedroom larger than my house and time to settle in. We get a quick cut back to an angry Robin, before joining Batman in the Batmobile who’s now making it obvious he knows that Billy Marin and Tony Zucco are one in the same and we go back to the flashback (one that’s apparently now more from Batman’s point of view).

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I get a very Lupin the 3rd vibe from this guy.

During this flashback we see how Batman made it a mission of his own to find Zucco to make him pay for what he did to Dick’s family. This includes a younger Batman (in a costume that reminds me of Year One and a bit of The Dark Knight Returns with a softer blue and a fat, all black logo and a belt with many pouches) going undercover to dig up dirt on Zucco, finding out he’s hiding out with his uncle Arnold Stromwell (Eugene Roche). We first met a current version of Stromwell in the episode “It’s Never Too Late” and now we get to see him as a slightly younger version of himself living the good life. Batman pays him a threatening kind of visit, in which Stromwell claims to not know the whereabouts of his bum nephew. Batman leaves, but not before tapping the residence which allows him to listen in on Zucco congratulating his uncle for getting ride of “The Bat.” Stromwell, on the other hand, is not in a congratulatory mood and kicks his nephew out of the family for bringing Batman upon his empire. The episode says little about Stromwell, but we know from his other appearance that his empire is built on illegal drugs. Zucco is able to make an escape, but it leaves Batman feeling like he’s close. Upon returning home though, Alfred reminds him that he really needs to take the time to mentor Dick and help him through what he’s dealing with. At first, Bruce is taken aback by Alfred’s comments pointing out what he’s doing is all for Dick, but quickly realizes that justice isn’t exactly what Dick needs right in this moment and he elects to spend more time with him. We get a nice scene where Bruce tries to cheer up Dick, and in doing so lets him know that he went through something similar. The hurt won’t go away, but it will get better.

The episode jumps back to the present with Robin scolding Batman over the radio for not letting him be a part of this. Batman won’t budge though and shuts down communication. Robin doesn’t respond in the way Batman probably hoped he would as he angrily jumps onto a Batcycle vowing to not sit this one out and even slipping in some ominous threats for the future about no longer staying on the sidelines (something this series will never readdress but its sequel series will). Alfred can only watch as Robin speeds off out of the Batcave leaving us, the viewers, to wait until next week to see how this all gets sorted out.

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The smaller moments shared between Bruce and Dick work so well that I wish there were more.

Really, aside from that one really lame sound cue, this episode is exceptional story-telling for a children’s program. That sounds like a back-handed compliment, but it’s not intended to be. Children’s shows have to work around emotion sometimes. People can get mad, but they can only do so much to show it. They can also be sad, but rarely are they allowed to grieve for something as long-lasting and impactful as the murder of one’s parents. This episode does a great job of artfully telling its story in a way that pleased the censors. The death of the Graysons was especially artful with everything happening offscreen without just doing a “yada yada” thing. It’s there, and we experience it in the moment, we just don’t actually see the pair fall to their untimely deaths. And I also appreciate the small moments. The episode doesn’t put the camera on Young Dick for any real length of time to focus on his grief, but it illustrates his grief in smaller ways. When Bruce walks in on him at the end of the episode we see him wiping tears from his eyes letting us know that he’s probably just been sitting around in a state of distress. It’s possible he’s spent every day since the incident doing just that. We get enough of his sorrow to feel it without letting it become the focus of the episode.

What is kind of lost is the the focus of the episode is an opening of an old wound for our present day Robin and the potential start of a rift between he and Batman. Director Dick Sebast does as well as he can with the 22 minute runtime to balance things out between flashback and the present day anger of Robin. While his boyish antics early in the episode aren’t very convincing, his anger is. Voice actor Loren Lester does a great job in making us believe angry Robin is a force to be reckoned with. His anger at Zucco for what he did years ago and his anger directed at Batman for keeping vengeance from him is palpable. It’s a good a setup for Part II. The only other victim of the short runtime is perhaps Alfred. I get the sense the episode wants us to feel as if Alfred is being put in the middle, and he’s supposed to be a stand-in for the audience as well. We want to like and root for both Batman and Robin, as Alfred obviously does as well. We understand Robin’s anger, but we also know that Batman is only looking out for him. At least, that’s the understanding I have in regards to Batman’s motives, but that may be because he better explains that in the follow-up and I’m inadvertently recalling that tidbit of information as I watch this episode again. As a kid, there’s a good chance I felt Batman was being a jerk.

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The episode succeeds in giving us insight into the Robin character thereby justifying his existence in this cartoon, which before now, he kind of felt like he didn’t belong.

“Robin’s Reckoning” is justifiably a favorite episode of many and I’m happy to say it holds up well. I love Robin’s origin because it both ties him to Batman in their shared tragedy and because it provides a plausible reason for why Robin is so agile and graceful as an adult able to keep up with Batman. In re-watching it now I do see how the show really relies on the audience having an established relationship with the Robin character since this is only his third appearance and we’re kind of asked to take his side in his conflict with Batman, the character we’ve been spending every week day with. I suppose it’s simply an advantage to working with iconic characters like Batman and Robin who really need no introduction, though still a little surprising since how small a role Robin had played in the film franchise. I’ve always been on the fence about Robin as a character, the fact that Batman would let a kid play super hero is rather absurd. And I have a cynical opinion of him that he’s just around to give kids someone to relate to, which they really don’t need. Kids aren’t that dumb. This episode does help to justify his existence and thankfully it’s not the start of Batman no longer being a mostly solo hero.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Fear of Victory”

Fear_of_Victory-Title_CardEpisode Number:  24

Original Air Date:  September 29, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Samuel Warren Joseph

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s been awhile, but making just his second appearance of the series (and first since episode two) is Robin, coming back to play a fairly large role in this week’s episode “Fear of Victory.” This episode was actually the television debut of Robin, since his first appearance came in the Christmas episode which was held back to air closer to the holiday. As a kid, I remember seeing the preview for this episode which featured Robin and getting all excited about it. I really don’t know why since I’ve always much preferred Batman to Robin, maybe it was just because it was something different? Plus, Robin had yet to appear in anything Batman related in quite some time, outside of the comics, so it had been a long while since I had interacted with The Boy Wonder.

As you can probably guess from the title, our villain for this episode is The Scarecrow. Making also his second appearance, Scarecrow has a re-design that makes him look far more fearsome than how he did in “Nothing to Fear.” His face is more interesting to behold and features a crooked mouth full of oddly shaped teeth. In some respects he reminds me of Clayface, and the animators take some liberties with his mask to make him look more fearsome when they want to. He also now has a mass of straw hair under his hat, further adding to the whole scarecrow thing he has going on. Over all, definitely an improvement over that eggplant shaped head he had going on previously. This episode is also noteworthy since it tries to show us how Batman’s enemies might go about getting money for their nefarious schemes. Scarecrow isn’t trying to exact revenge or take over Gotham or anything crazy, he’s just trying to scam bookies by rigging sporting events using his fear toxin. Since he was fired from his university post, he likely needs some funds to get a good lab up and running to further his experiments, though the lack of which apparently didn’t prevent him from creating what he needed for this episode.

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Robin starts freaking out pretty early in the episode – way to make a good first impression, Boy Blunder.

The episode opens on a sports highlight package that displays various performers collapsing in fear during their respective games. Dick Grayson is watching the program from his dorm when his roommate receives a telegram from a skinny, red-headed courier. I’ve got a pretty good memory, so I know who that guy is immediately (and the title card is a total give-away anyways). The telegram is from “a fan” and cautions Brian, Dick’s roommate and quarterback for the school’s football team, not to take fear lightly. When Robin is out on patrol with Batman he fills him in on the odd telegram, and they wonder if it has any connection to the odd things they’ve been seeing in the sports world, including his own roommate getting freaked out on the field. They fire off the first appearance of the crappy version of the grapple guns, the ones that just end in metal Batman logos and stab into the ledges. When Robin has a panic attack while confronting some goons, it tips off Batman that someone is poisoning the athletes and causing them to experience fear.

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Scarecrow’s new look is appropriate.

Some testing back at the lab confirms Batman’s hypothesis and naturally leads him to suspect The Scarecrow. They pay Arkham Asylum a visit where we get some cameos from the likes of Joker and Poison Ivy. Oddly enough, they’re all depicted in their regular villain attire instead of inmate jumpsuits. Batman arrives just as Dr. Crane’s food is being served and he witnesses an orderly tossing it in the garbage rather than delivering it to the appropriate inmate. Batman decides to check out Scarecrow’s cell, which the orderly really doesn’t want him to do, and he finds there’s a scarecrow there in his place. My guess is the writers/story boarders came up with this first and thus were pigeon-holed into putting the other villains in their regular attire as a result. All so they could have a scarecrow in place of The Scarecrow.

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When Brian hallucinates the animators get to have fun with some face-morphing animation to depict his fear.

Figuring out who is behind everything is obviously elementary. Dr. Crane is shown throughout the episode delivering the telegram and also collecting his winnings and each time he’s in disguise. This isn’t to hide the fact that it’s The Scarecrow from the viewer, but to seemingly hide his redesign which pays off when he scares his bookie’s hired muscle. We get an extreme closeup of his face where liberties are taken to add sharp, piranha like teeth to his mask and really make him look kind of freaky, at least I remember it being that way to me as a kid. And the guy he is scaring in that scene is voiced by Tim Curry, who was supposed to be The Joker before it was decided to go with Mark Hamill. They must have had him record some ancillary characters (Hamill voices the orderly in this episode) that they elected to keep. The real tension, I suppose, of the episode is Robin trying to overcome the fear toxin he was exposed to via his roommate’s telegram. He has a panic attack early that almost costs Batman dearly, and Batman has to kind of keep him at arm’s length for the confrontation with Scarecrow. Batman basically gives him tough love as there’s no cure for the toxin, you just need to power through until its effects ware off.

The Dynamic Duo figures out that Scarecrow is targeting the big Gotham Knights game. In a bit of hack story-telling, Batman and Robin’s “fight” with The Scarecrow is cut in sync with the actions of the football game, including Scarecrow’s vial being dropped cut with a fumble in the game. It’s stupid and the type of thing director’s can’t seem to resist when football pops into an action series (I remember contemporary series Rugrats doing something similar). There’s also a really long pass at one point in the game that’s animated to look more like a punt, making me wonder if the animators had ever seen American football (probably not). Since Scarecrow isn’t much of a physical threat, he’s caught rather easily once his threat to poison the entire arena is rendered toothless by Robin overcoming his fear and collecting the vial. Scarecrow suggests his one vial could have infected the whole stadium, which seems ludicrous. I guess since he was cornered in some scaffolding with no way out he could have just been lying in a desperate bid to escape, Batman seems to buy it though.

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Okay, now I’m scared.

“Fear of Victory” is an okay episode of Batman: The Animated Series. I like The Scarecrow and I like his new look, which he’ll hang onto until The New Batman Adventures. The little side story with Robin is fine and it makes sense since we’ve already seen Batman have to deal with the toxin, so why not Robin? It gives him some credibility since he does overcome it in the end, and since Batman doesn’t just tell him to stay home, it does tell us that Batman must value him as a sidekick. What is never really explained is just what drives Robin to actually accompany Batman on his various outings. Because his roommate got scared playing football? Okay. He’ll just kind of show up for no reason from time to time until season two. I prefer Batman as a solo act, so I’m fine with this arrangement and I’m fine with this episode.


Dec. 23 – Teen Titans Go!: Second Christmas

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Original air date December 4, 2013

The Teen Titans are a super hero group consisting of all of the heroes no one cares about:  Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, and Beast Boy. They got a chance to shine in their own series, which was eventually spun-off into a satirical comedy series called Teen Titans Go! This series is basically a flash animated cartoon in which the team does little actual super hero stuff and mostly just confronts every day mundane activities in an overly dramatic way. It’s not a show I’m very familiar with, having only watched an episode here and there just because it seems to always be on Cartoon Network. My once infant son seemed to like the theme song and all of the colors, so I’d on occasion use the program to distract him for a few minutes. I’ve had people tell me it’s a really funny show, and others tell me it’s one of the worst things DC has ever done with its brand. I’m guessing if you have no affection for the comics then this show is mostly just dumb humor that’s not entirely annoying, but if you actually enjoy the Teen Titans as a super hero group then you probably have a negative opinion of this thing.

“Second Christmas” aired during the show’s first season in 2013. I may not be familiar with this show, but i am familiar with the post-Christmas blues. December 26th is often cited by me as the saddest day of the year – 364 days until next Christmas, 365 if it’s one of those wretched leap years. Boxing Day just doesn’t do it for me, and the premise of this episode is immediately appealing to me because the characters are dealing with that very same thing, and to combat it, they come up with Second Christmas.

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Who doesn’t enjoy a good Christmas sweater?

The episode opens on Christmas morning. We get some shots of the Titans’ HQ, a giant building shaped like the letter T, and it’s all decorated for Christmas with numerous DC references. The stockings are hung by the fireplace loaded with toys and goodies, implying Santa has come and gone. I very much like that Cyborg’s stocking is a giant steel boot. The camera zooms in on a Batman alarm clock which immediately goes off at 8:00 AM. What?! You mean in a building occupied solely by kids the inhabitants stay in bed until 8 on Christmas morning? Hell, I rarely let the sun beat me to Christmas morning. When the alarm goes off, the Titans come running out from their rooms. They observe the cookies have been consumed, the milk has been drunk, and they tare through their wonderful new gifts. The gifts are supposed to be kind of funny, I take it, but the only one I like is Starfire’s Dr. Seuss inspired thing that I couldn’t possibly spell.

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I feel like Beast Boy should really be a reindeer here and not a dog.

The Titans move onto ugly Christmas sweaters and food. The day, as it often does, goes by like a whirlwind and suddenly it’s the 26th. Everyone is feeling down except Robin, who channels my mom in this scene by gleefully pulling down all of the Christmas decorations. He’s the most straight-laced of the group and wants to get back to training and doing super hero stuff while the others just need to wallow. Starfire is less upset as she apparently has a Christmas-like holiday to attend on her home planet, or wherever she’s from. There some kind of purple dinosaur that isn’t Barney replaces Santa amid chaos and flames. Seems interesting. The others are a bit jealous that she gets to run off for more holiday shenanigans so Beast Boy comes up with the idea of telling her about Second Christmas. Raven and Cyborg play along, and they soon have Starfire convinced that Second Christmas is a real holiday complete with its own Santa, obviously named Second Santa. He’s tall, skinny, and wears a green track suit and flys around with a jet pack.

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Robin is pretty willing to move on from Christmas while the others are reluctant to do so.

Robin walks in on them and immediately tries to put this Second Christmas nonsense to bed, but Beast Boy informs Starfire that Robin is the Grouch of Second Christmas and she shouldn’t listen to him and instead punch him in the face – so she does. Second Christmas suddenly becomes a thing that occurs at the expense of Starfire as the others leave it to her to re-decorate the place, cook a new Christmas dinner (consisting of junk food like pizza and burritos), and handle all of the presents and such. Somehow a Second Christmas kite becomes thing, and Starfire is very much interested in meeting Second Santa. A Dr. Seuss-like narrator also pops in to add a little magic to Second Christmas. Starfire is happy to go along with everything as she’s promised a Second Christmas miracle by Beast Boy should everything go well.

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All decorated for Second Christmas.

A montage, very much a re-hash of the opening one that covered Christmas, takes place showing the Titans in celebration. Robin remains a grouch, but doesn’t continue to protest. He still gets punched in the face though for making a sour face during Second Christmas Carols. He finally voices concern when Starfire activates the many, many lights she’s strung up all over the building, drawing attention to the huge waste of money powering them all is. He notes that their generator can’t handle this much stress and tries reasoning with Starfire. He tries being sympathetic to her and explain that the others are playing a trick on her, then gets angry when that doesn’t work, only earning him yet another punch in the face. Starfire won’t be fooled by the Second Christmas Grouch, the narrator informs us as we get a look at the swelling generator.

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All seem quite pleased with how Second Christmas turned out, except Robin.

Inside, Beast Boy remarks how he’s beat from all of this Second Christmas celebrating and Raven and Cyborg are quick to point out how great it was. They all decide to head to bed, but not Starfire who did not miss her people’s most important holiday to not witness a Second Christmas miracle. Suddenly, the others show a bit of remorse, but they only tease copping to her about the whole thing. When they say “There’s something we should tell you,” it just leads to them bidding her good night after unsuccessfully trying to get her to go to bed herself. Robin can only look on with disappointment.

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Starfire is pissed.

Starfire takes to the roof to fly her Second Christmas kite in hopes of spotting Second Christmas Santa. She tries to convince herself to believe, assuming that’s what will lead to a miracle, but nothing happens. The narrator comes in to recount all of the things she has done throughout the day to ensure Second Christmas was perfect. Just then, a flash of light bathes her in a warm glow! Second Santa? Nope, it’s just the elevator to the roof containing her teammates with Robin ordering them to tell her she’s been had. They finally come clean and hang their heads in shame, apologizing, but Starfire isn’t too accepting. She missed the most important day of the year for her home world for Second Christmas and she goes ballistic throwing nuclear snowballs at her “friends.” Even Robin isn’t spared as she still calls him the Grouch and punches him in the face. I’ve always thought Robin was pretty lame, but damn does he get abused in this episode.

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He is real! He’s really real!

After all of the Titans are trapped in the snow, a bright light appears. Even Robin and the others wonder if this is the coming of Second Santa, while Starfire turns to the light with renewed Second Christmas Spirit. Turns out it’s just the generator overloading and soon the whole thing explodes. We fade to white and find the Titans all waking up in hospital beds. Turns out the explosion put them all into comas and they’re just now all waking up simultaneously 363 days later – it’s Christmas Eve! A Second Christmas Miracle! The creation of their fake holiday has had the intended result as the Titans were not forced to wait for next Christmas, it came! They reflect on the miraculous event, as the camera leaves the confines of the hospital room to reveal the identity of the episode’s narrator as none other than Second Santa himself. He takes to the sky in his jet pack, just as Starfire approaches a window to witness him. He gives her a wink, and writes Happy 2nd X-Mas in the sky before flying off.

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I guess I should have run this on the 26th, but there’s no way I’m doing a 26th blog entry on Christmas this month!

“Second Christmas” is a pretty silly and, at times, mean-spirited little Christmas special. It’s also strangely relatable as who likes waiting a whole year for Christmas? I mean sure we all get sick of the songs at times and there’s always a few really annoying commercials each year, but Christmas is such a wonderful time of year it sometimes gets a little sad knowing it’s just one day out of the whole year. Of course, that one day has been stretched into two as Christmas Eve is basically a holiday at this point, and the entire Christmas season is eerily undefined. At retail it basically begins the week of Halloween while many at least push it off until after Thanksgiving. And then it kind of lingers through the new year before vanishing completely as kids return to school and adults back to work. As a concept, I love this episode and I like the little flourishes that give it a holiday special vibe such as the narrator or visual gags like a snowman coming to life when Cyborg places hie head upon it. As something that’s funny or entertaining, it’s less successful as there’s really no laugh-out-loud moments, but a short running time (about 11 minutes with opening and closing credits) keeps it from over-staying its welcome. As a result, I’m pretty lukewarm on the whole thing which pretty much matches my attitude toward the series as a whole.

Teen Titans Go! is run all of the time on Cartoon Network, it’s basically that channel’s SpongeBob, so I expect this episode to air numerous times during this holiday season. If the network is smart, it’ll be shown on the 26th to really capture the mood of the episode. As of this post, it’s scheduled to air on Christmas Eve at 1 PM. The show is also available on DVD and Blu Ray and streaming in various places on the web.